At any dinner table, at any barbecue in Australia, or in any bar conversation, have you ever heard these words come out of your mouth? – “If only I’d…”
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, pretty much most of us have uttered these words in frustration at some point. We’ve all had that business idea we were going to start, that bargain property we should have bought, that person we ought to have spoken to; the list of ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’s’ is endless.
Equally, we may have the other list: the idea we shouldn’t have followed through with, the car we should never have bought, the moron we wish we had never dated. Our list of perceived ‘failures’ may equal or even exceed our list of perceived ‘successes’.
I use the word ‘perceived’ because it’s my belief that we are in a world of constant change, both external and internal. That which you perceive as a disaster today may just turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you! You may be fired from a great job today – ‘a disaster’, only to be offered a better one tomorrow. Suddenly the firing was no longer a ‘disaster’ but a life-changing opportunity. It’s all in how we choose to look at it and how new information and ideas can change our perception.
This may make sense to you intellectually, but then you might say to me, “Well, what about my Father passing away or my wife leaving me?” When you are emotionally distraught, it’s pretty hard to swallow the concept that this may yet turn out to be a good thing in terms of your personal growth as a human being. I understand completely and I’m not in any way belittling or demeaning the grief or pain that someone may be going through. I’ve been through enough myself to ‘get’ that.
What I am saying though is that we always have choices.
I didn’t choose for my wife to leave me, though in the end it was a relief for both of us. I didn’t choose for my father to die, though in the end I felt it was a relief that his suffering from illness was ended. I was devastated for a while and that’s normal. There is a time and a place for processing your stages of shock, denial, hurt, anger and eventual acceptance. That’s all part of being human. The key point there is that some things are beyond our control, like our mortality and that of our loved ones. That’s when and why we have to dig deep inside ourselves and remind us of who we are and of the incredible potential that each one of us has.
Each one of us is a miracle – just by the very fact of our existence. I’m not addressing religion here, just the nature of life itself. We all have an opportunity to choose, perhaps not everything that happens ‘TO’ us, but definitely ‘HOW WE RESPOND’ to what happens to us. Funerals, though they are about grief and loss, have evolved to remind us of the joy we can give each other – they have transformed into a celebration of the life of a human being and the way in which they touched the lives around them. That is a source of great comfort that helps ease the pain of loss.
We can either allow ourselves to be crushed by external events or we can choose to respond internally and bounce back, set a new course, learn from our experiences and create change.
There are enough examples all around us of people who have seemingly lost everything that they cared about, yet they bounced back. Why?
Perhaps it’s because they accepted that what happened, happened and instead of being stuck with the affliction or disease of ‘If-only-itis’, they chose their own response. They chose change. They chose life.
Nelson Mandela chose to forgive his captors after ‘losing’ 26 years of his life in prison with his crusade to transform a nation. Gandhi chose to fight occupation and perceived injustice with passive protest to transform a nation. Muhammad Ali gave up a world championship title, won in a ‘controlled’ violent sport, to oppose conscription to fight a bloody war against people with whom he had no personal conflict. With that decision he gave up everything he had fought for to stand for something greater – for his core values of peace and harmony in the world.
Your battles may be less dramatic or may seem way less significant to the universe. You may justify maintaining your status quo by saying that those people were exceptional. Yet, they were just people. Had they stayed ‘stuck’ and muttered ‘If only…’ we would probably not have noticed them. You may not believe it now, but you may be Just like them and your personal choices just might have a ripple effect beyond anything you have yet imagined.
If you know someone who is suffering from that dreaded curse of wallowing in ‘If-only-itis’, maybe you can help. Perhaps you can give them a call, possibly invite them somewhere that might encourage them, or simply be kind in whatever way you can.
There are always strategies you can develop and choices you can make. The world is changing constantly, with you or without you. Every setback, every challenge, every disaster, is at the same moment an opportunity to change, to cope and grow stronger, to evolve as a human being, perhaps to change other lives. You might not see that right now if you are stuck, looking at ‘If only…’
Change the thinking, change the words you say to yourself and ask yourself different questions. “Why, how and in what way could this ‘if only’ lead to something useful? How could this event turn out to help me grow and move forwards?” Remember that a choice to do nothing is still a choice.
Mother Nature does not allow a vacuum to occur. When one ‘thing’ is taken away, ‘something else’ will take its place. What the ‘something else’ is however, is up to you. You can repeat an old pattern that was familiar and comfortable, but kept you stuck, or you can shed that skin and grow a new and better version of ‘YOU’.